Under the Hands on Clay Program

James Herring's Motivations

According to the artist's own manifesto, this exhibit is an exercise in examining the influences that various mentors, teachers, movements, philosophies, and personal heroes have had on his work as a ceramic artist. An exceptional selection of pieces from renowned ceramic art artists is made available to both local artists and the public, artists who have been seminal influences in the development of Herring's body of work.

Curated by James Herring

February 23th, 2023 - March 1th, 2024

In Miami, you hear a lot about art, but not so much about craft. James Herring's work in ceramics fuses the two. Herring eschews the title of "artist" and sees the resurgence of crafts and craftsmanship as a necessity for human growth in modern times. An outspoken supporter and practitioner of the maker movement, Herring has maintained a presence locally by doing demonstrations and leading classes and workshops on the ancient craft.Abel Folgar for '100 Creatives Miami New Times' | December 27, 2016

Herring crafts pieces — functional sculptures. Principles of beauty, community, utility, intuition, and fidelity to materials guide a practice where process embodies content. He concludes that the development of forms through serial work and repetition as a tool fosters an intuitive process. The use or functionality of his work is a crucial element in gauging its success. While visual presence is significant, equally valuable is the experience conveyed when his creations are handled, touched, and employed in daily life. He acknowledges that a vase, for instance, is incomplete until it hosts a floral arrangement, a teapot unfinished until it brews tea; the intimacy of functional objects that invite interaction, touch, holding, and dining offers a pathway to transformative experiences. His work is not designed but evolves through this process. It is unfinished until it finds use.

James endeavors to ensure that all work he releases into the world meets the highest standards of technical craftsmanship. The clay, glazes, and firing techniques are thoroughly tested. His relationship with the materials and the firing process has a direct and significant impact on the work. Soda firing is his preferred method. This atmospheric process aligns with his unique sensibilities. Ultimately, each piece is rigorously reviewed to ensure it adheres to the principles and standards he has set for himself, even though these principles and standards may not always align with what is expected.

James Herring has been working in ceramics for over 40 years and has work in numerous collections. He has received several grants including the Knight Arts Challenge, NEA/SAF Individual Artist Grant, New Forms Florida as well as two from Art Matters. He has presented at Symposiums such as The Craft Museum: Ideals and Practice at The Renwick Gallery/Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Collage Art Association. He holds an MA in Asian Studies where his focus was on the Japanese mingei movement and its influence on American ceramics. His BFA was in studio ceramics and he was an Artist-in-Residence at Penland School of Crafts. His work marries Eastern philosophy with the modern maker movement and he invites us to rediscover our creativity by getting our hands dirty. He believes that craftsmanship and the arts are crucial for nurturing human growth. Not only is Herring a well-known practitioner and advocate for pottery, he also works as Director of Exhibition Production at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. He is a former President of the Ceramic League of Miami and was an Artist-in-Residence at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.

The preceding piece is a beautiful tribute from the artist to his brother. In his own words:

Cowboy Washstand

My brother Eric grew up wanting to be a cowboy. He would spend time at my uncle's cattle farm and even had his own cow to manage there. When he avoided the Vietnam War by joining the Navy he soon learned he had a pathological hate for authority and managed to pay off a Navy doctor to give him a psych discharge. He decided to move out west to Arizona and take up the cowboy life. Working construction jobs in between gigs on cattle farms. Living many times in backwoods and remote locations without access to running water. He asked me to make him a pitcher and washstand that he could use for cleaning up. I procrastinated and Eric died 5 years ago. His cowboy lifestyle with hard drinking, fighting and abusive marital relations took its toll, he passed away from liver disease. I did finally make this as a tribute to him and his choices. I didn't agree with them, but I did admire the fact he had a dream and made it real.

In his statement, James Harring has made it clear that: 'This exhibition is an exercise in examining the influences of various mentors, teachers, movements, philosophies, and personal heroes have had on my work in ceramics. Artists Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, Eddie Weyhe, Warren Mackenzie, Ron Meyers, Gina Volker Bobrowski and Micheal Simon were seminal influences on the development of my work. Alongside these figures has been my study of Japanese ceramics both contemporary and historic especially the mingei movement of the early 20th century. On the periphery of these artists and influences lingers Zen Buddhists concepts which I still struggle to grasp. Only now do I feel like the work is coalescing into a coherent expression of these influences. The work of some of these artists are included here'

Guest Artists Featured in This Exhibition

Micheal Simon
Micheal was an amazing potter who helped me grow in my time with him at Penland. We built a chamber for the wood kiln together and fired that kiln more than once. He was the most natural potter I ever knew; it was like he was born to it. He worked on a treadle wheel like MacKenzie his teacher and kept the ideas of mingei and Bernard Leach going throughout his work.

Betty Woodman
Betty came to the Ceramic League of Miami in the early 80's and did a 3- week workshop. She was another artist who worked in a direct engaged way with the clay, creating forms with wheel, but manipulating them, combining them in unusual ways. Another in-the-moment artist.She invited me to drive the work she made during the workshop to her home in Boulder Colorado and stay with her family for a few days. She took me on a tour of the University where she taught and took me to their collection of Mimbres pottery. I was able to hold and handle these precious objects from a native American civilization that had disappeared. "kill-pots" were the most fascinating, they had been placed over the face of the deceased and a small hole broken in the center.

Paul Soldner
Soldner was one of my first teachers. He came to Miami in 1974 and did several workshops in the area including at Miami Dade Community College, South campus and at the Ceramic League of Miami. In fact, I believe this was my introduction to the League. I can still visualize him demonstrating by throwing a large, closed form on the wheel and then slapping it down on the floor, then stepping on it. Somehow what emerged was this magnificent shape! I was hooked at that moment. The summer of 1975 I made my way to Anderson Ranch in Colorado where Soldner was teaching. We went to his crazy house where he was in the process of inventing the machines for his studio pottery company. Those 2 months were critical to my formation as an artist working in clay.

Ron Meyers
Ron came to Penland when I was there, and I had the good fortune to be his assistant. He is another one of those artists working in clay that has the immediacy of the material in his blood. The direct mastery and fluid flow of his work has always impressed. Paulus Berenshon described him once by reading the Mary Oliver poem "The Mole", digging in the earth. I always thought that was accurate. I brought here to Miami once in the 90's to do a workshop at the South Florida Art Center. He is another one of my heroes.

Warren MacKenzie
Mackenzie came to the Ceramic League of Miami in, I believe, 1980 and did a five-week workshop that included building a kiln. This is one of the key figures in American Ceramics of the 20th century. This was happening while I was still in college at FIU. It was amazing to be around and see this man work on a daily basis over this stretch of time. He immersed himself in making an insane number of pots each day.He talked about the "Dumb" pot. What he meant by that was the idea of getting lost in the making to the point where it is the body's mind working the magic. Making wasn't a design process, it was a haptic one that happens in the moment of making. Something I still strive for in my work.
I was later his assistant at Penland School in North Carolina for 3 weeks, another amazing experience.

Eddie Weyle
Steve May
Chõzaemon Õhi
Gina Volker Bobrowski

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